It’s one of the biggest challenges in the pizza industry
To succeed in business, you have to be willing to give all of your time, energy and focus. And in no business is that more accurate then the pizza business. When my father opened up his first store in 1996, my four other siblings and I would rarely see him. He would leave before we were up for school, and he would come home when we were asleep. To build us a better life, and to have something of our own, he sacrificed years away from his family. He missed meals with us, special moments and milestones, countless games, family parties and weddings. He missed a lot. I’ve always admired how much the man sacrificed. Witnessing first hand how his hard work paid off over time really helped shape me into what I am today. When I started opening up my pizzerias and when I started my family years ago, I made myself a promise that I would always try to avoid those circumstances. I didn’t want that for my family or myself. And I’ve actively tried over the years, but realized that when I am succeeding in one area of my life it almost certainly means that I am failing in another area.
As operators we are torn with how to spend our time. We feel bad and guilty when one area gets more attention than the other. World Pizza Champion Laura Meyer says very often “you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable in the restaurant business”, and a part of us knows that real true balance in this life we have chosen is probably unattainable.
That’s why you have to make sure you love what you are doing. Paul Giannone of Paulie Gee’s in New York told me he’s doing now what he was doing almost every night at his home, and he’s having a blast. John Arena of Metro Pizza in Las Vegas, a 50-year veteran and icon in our industry, told me that to this day he still loves and enjoys making pizzas, and he could never have pictured himself doing anything else.
I believe the reasons we struggle to balance work and family in this business are these:
1. We are the hardest working people in the hardest working industry.
Our jobs may require some of us to work seven days a week, day and night, even holidays. The needs of our customers come first, and those are the times they need our services. Eight hour shifts are a very rare thing for us. We have grown accustomed to working many more on average and have all experienced a 15-hour shift.
2. To Build a Business takes everything out of us.
To make our operations successful we have to work hard all the time. We have to make sure our food tastes good. We have to make sure our stores look nice and that they are clean. Our customers must receive great service and be happy. We have to know our numbers and be smart about our finances. We have to be good marketers and advertisers. We have to develop strategies short and long term, and make sure they are executed. We are the captains of our ship and can run them into an iceberg or sail them beautifully in the ocean of prosperity. WE MUST WEAR ALL HATS AT ALL TIMES.
3. We have BIG EGOS.
We have worked so hard, so tirelessly to build our business and believe there is no way anyone can or will do what we do. There is no way anyone could possibly be as smart or as capable as we are. If we were to walk away, everything we did to build this place from nothing would burn up in flames. It would all be for naught.
It’s not that our health, family and happiness don’t matter to us. It’s that it comes secondary to our business, because we believe our business being successful will make those other areas fall into place. Like a soldier who is away at war on a battlefield, we make all the sacrifices, and are diligent and focused on our mission and will see it through to the end.
And for some the day never comes, and that is the reason burnout and exhaustion are very common in our industry, and also why we see a lot of alcohol and substance abuse.
All of the successful operators and experts in our field that contributed to this article admitted to having had balance and burnout issues at some point in their careers. The struggle can make us become angry, bitter and pessimistic. So in order to achieve a balance, we need to work equally as hard as we did to build our businesses. Here are some tips and suggestions I have gathered through my experiences and research:
Learn how to detach.
My first store in particular, but subsequently with all of my other openings, it was really hard to walk away and not be there all the time. And even when I physically wasn’t there, I would constantly be on my phone, watching the security cameras, sending messages and spend all of the time away worrying about the store. There is an indescribable guilt we feel being away from our stores, like we are neglecting a child. But we need to understand that if we can’t detach and balance other aspects of our lives, we cannot fully give our best effort or version of ourselves to our stores. Nicole Bean of Pizaro’s Pizza in Houston recommends putting your phone on DND (Do not disturb) on specific times you step away from work. This allows her to really remove herself from the work life and focus on what she wants to do.
Most small businesses in America are family owned and operated. A New York Enterprise Report found that small business owners work twice as much as everyday employees, many hovering over 60 hours per week to make sure their companies stay afloat. All of the successful local restaurants I know are operated by families. Paulie G’s first pizza man was his son. Paulie told me “You have to involve family, otherwise you’ll never see them”. This also helps spouses and children understand what exactly is going on and why you are so unavailable at times.
Accept that you have chosen a lifestyle that will be very different than a normal persons and find ways to still fit in what’s important to you.
For example, if eating dinner with your family is important, but you need to stay at your store, have them come have dinner at the restaurant.
Carlo Bertolli of Pizza Boy in Chicago and hit reality show “Smothered” told me stories that growing up when his father was working seven days open to close, his mother would bring all five kids to the shop to have dinner, and sometimes the younger ones would sleep in sleeping bags if it got a little later than expected.
If you physically can’t be with family as much because of different schedules, call as often as possible and Facetime. It doesn’t take the place of being able to spend time in person, but it definitely helps and would mean a lot to your loved ones. If you are like my father was, and don’t get to see them in the morning or evening, leave little hand drawn notes on the fridge. Your whole family will love and look forward to these. Express to your family that you work very hard and sacrifice so much time from them because you want to make a better life for you all.
Make the most of your time.
Be very mindful. If you can only get a few minutes in the evening before the kids go to bed, make sure they are uninterrupted quality minutes. Put your phone away, eliminate distractions and focus on the present. You would be surprised at how quality can make up for quantity when in comes to time. If you can’t get away for a week, try a few days or even a day trip, but really focus on all your loved ones. They will treasure all of those memories for a lifetime.
Work when they sleep.
If you need to work from home, try working when everyone is asleep. It will be hard, but wake up a few hours early or go to bed a little later. When you’re home, try to put all of your attention and passion into your loved ones. You will feel less guilt because you will not be missing out on anything when they’re sleeping. I’ll sacrifice sleep, but I won’t sacrifice quality time with them.
Build a team. Delegate.
It’s very hard to find help these days in our industry. John Arena told me: “We lose people, and we say ‘I’ll do that myself, I’ll do that myself, I’ll do that myself. Until you’re standing by yourself doing everything!’” We need to be very intentional on building a team and developing people to be able to do what is required in our absence. Look for people who are independent and able to take the reins when we are not around. Teach them our beliefs and style so we can delegate tasks and get them done the way we would do them.
Do Less, Lead more.
We spend so much of our time and energy as operators putting out fires.
Author and Speaker David Scott Peters of “Restaurant Prosperity” says that if our restaurant operation is dependent on us being in it, then we are fulfilling the wrong role as an owner. We need to start leading our employees instead of doing their jobs for them. David suggests making checklists for every aspect of your restaurant. “When you document whatever task needs to get done, you suddenly become in control of everything down to the smallest detail without having to lift a finger to do it yourself,” he says.
Close once a week.
If you are short staffed and have no way to walk away from your business, close one day a week. To some of us operators that idea is unfathomable. We wouldn’t want to risk losing customers or the business. But you really need to weigh your pros and cons. Carlo from Pizza Boy is closed on Mondays, which allows him to get some personal stuff done and spend time with his wife and three kids. Paulie Gee’s was closed on Mondays as well when he first started, or there wouldn’t have been any other way to spend quality time with his wife. Many operators I know had big staffing issues, and were forced to close one and in some instances two days a week during the height of the pandemic. Surprisingly for some, revenues stayed the same (the customers that were coming on Mondays would come other days), and a few others experienced a significant increase in profit margins because of reduced labor and overhead.
Take a personal inventory.
Laura Meyer says: “We put our heads down and grind, and we forget to look up. We are like race horses. We run with our blinders on and only look forward.” Try to take a step back and really assess your goals and your life.
Nicole Bean highly recommends the book “Pocket Life Coach”, which really helped her put things in perspective and achieve a healthier work and life balance.
Why did you get in this business? What areas of your life require attention? What changes, big or small can you make to better yourself and be a better version of yourself? Be proactive at setting boundaries and making changes.
Pasquale Di Diana is owner-operator of Bacci Pizzerias in Chicago, Illinois.